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From Christian in Business to Christian Business

Martien Kelderman

Over coffee I asked Steve what made his business ‘Christian’. He was silent for some time and then said “I didn’t know it could be Christian. Can a business be ‘saved’?” What a good question.

All over New Zealand there are Christians in positions of influence in business, either through ownership or senior management in someone else’s organisation. While many of these people are living with integrity and honouring God in their personal lives, their businesses are run just like everyone else’s. Being a Christian personally has not necessarily changed the way their organisation is run.

Before we get too critical, however, we should declare that many business units are run well, employees are treated with dignity, contracts are honoured and work is of good quality. The law and common decency have ensured a good average performance. But Jesus challenged us to be both salt and light. While being salt is perhaps a more passive expression of faith -- flavouring business with integrity, care and good supportive relationship -- being ‘light’ is more intentional, more activist, driving out the darkness before it as the light is intentionally placed on the lamp stand to be seen.

teve and I talked of God -- himself an entrepreneur -- creating from nothing, birthing an idea, bringing together the assets and the labour, appointing managers and retaining ownership. We shared how in the true spirit of entrepreneurship God took a risk: creating in spite of the possibility of failure through sin. In his image humanity was encouraged to fill and subdue the earth, innovating, producing, caring for his creation.

We talked of God’s business setbacks, the arrival of a predatory competitor (Satan) who actually moved to take over the business, winning the attention and diverting the loyalty of humanity, whose decision to sin distorted all of God’s enterprise.

We talked further of how Jesus came to redeem all of creation because God so loved (all) the world.1 Jesus came “to save that which was lost”2 and creation itself awaits its redemption as the children of God are revealed.3 Paul writes that everything that is built on Christ will be saved.4 The purpose of God is for all things to be restored.

Steve was intrigued at the thought that if his business was built on Christ, it too could be saved and that Jesus had died to redeem even his business. He was challenged that if he, through Christ, redeemed his business and if his business submitted to Christ the king then the words “the kingdom of God is near” could also be applied to it. People would see the good works of the business and “give praise to the father in heaven”.5

Steve then asked “How do I know that I am doing God’s ‘good work’ in my business?” Another good question. We agreed that there were three constitutional agreements (every business must have a constitution) and four KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that reveal whether a business is operating as God’s business.

Three constitutional agreements

The first agreement is that the business relationship with God is a management (stewardship) relationship. The business belongs to God and Steve is only a tenant.6 As steward, Steve is responsible to God to invest his resources, physical assets, skills and money on God’s behalf. Even the labour Steve employs is entrusted to his care and God will ask Steve to account for the way he treats these people.7 One day God will ask Steve to account for all he has given into Steve’s trust and care.

The second agreement is one of partnership. God’s intentions for creation are not complete without our efforts8 and we are his fellow workers.9 It is to us that God has given the commission to proclaim the good news of the kingdom10 and reveal it in (amongst other things) the way we work.11

The third agreement is that these previous two agreements are to be understood as the calling of God, every bit as sacred as a calling to lead a church congregation. It is God’s purpose for us that we should work with him in his purposes for the earth. This call applies to each of us as a sacred vocation. God becomes our employer, the master whom we see in so many New Testament passages.

We make our business Christian when we act as good stewards of God’s resources and partner with him in his work.

Four Key Performance Indicators

KPIs are established so that we might know when we are on track in meeting the expectations of our employer. KPIs that are the business activities of The Way when seen in our business will cause others to call us Christian.

Creative and productive work

The first KPI is that we fulfil God’s command to create and produce. We are to subdue and fill the earth, to draw out the ‘good’ of creation. Our activities should reflect God’s creative personality through innovative and aesthetic expression. We are encouraged to come up with new products and creative innovative advances that bless others. We make modifications and enhancements to existing products and systems that explore the potential of the earth in a sustainable way. We lead people in ways that release their created potential.

We are to be productive, “tilling the earth”12 to bring out its productive potential, providing work for other people, providing amply for the needs of all in a manner which is sustainable to the earth, and in God’s way (“in our image”) caring for all of creation. When that production reflects God’s own practices of excellence, completing the task set and honouring his expectations for ‘rest’, we produce as he would have us produce.

God’s/our providential work

The second KPI is that we partner with God in his providential work. The theology of God’s providence is often reduced to debates about how God’s sovereignty deals with issues of evil in the world or how it co-exists with free will. God’s providence not unimportantly also includes his maintenance and sustaining of the earth. Without this work the earth would not continue.

If God were to withdraw his breath all humanity would perish.13 God holds all things together with his hands.14 God keeps the earth going by his word.15 God restrains evil lest it destroy the earth, and sets final limits on the consequences of sin.16

How do we partner in this task? Our business should protect the earth and contribute to its sustainability, safeguarding the environment and the balances necessary to maintain it. God calls us to resist evil and do good. When we keep our word, refuse to lie or cheat, pay to “Caesar that which is Caesar’s” we resist evil and do good. When we remain loyal in our relationships and exercise justice in our employment relationships we resist the expansion of evil. When we live by the ethics of God’s kingdom, only doing to others what we would have them do to us, going the second mile we do good.

‘God’s providence’ is a phrase that is often used to describe God’s hand guiding us to faith. The faith-full life of the Christian business person expressed in business dealings contributes to the journey towards faith of employees, suppliers, service people and customers.

Redemptive business practice

Our third KPI is that we live redemptively. Paul speaks of the complete work of Christ, the redemption of all of creation.17 This redemption certainly has eschatological significance in the second coming of Christ and the final and full restoration of all things, however, it also has current application. When the business person is revealed as a child of God walking in obedience and submission to God, genuinely living out of the character of God’s family, then creation -- or at least the sphere of creation of which they are part and able to impact -- begins the process of restoration.

The work of restoration

God has been working since the fall to restore humanity and all of creation to its original intent revealed in Genesis 1-2. The fourth KPI is that through our business we work alongside God in this task. God is working to restore our relationship with himself, with one another, with work and with creation itself. God is working to remove sin from the equation and deal death to the usurper of his creation.

Working with God, our business has opportunity to contribute to this restorative process. When we forgive the sinner, the cheat, the thief, the abuser of power and wealth, we allow restoration to begin. When we honour remorse and repentance and move to restore we reveal God’s Kingdom. When we clean up a landfill, when we replant a forest, when we pay for or support counselling for the alcoholic worker, the family abused by workaholism, we are in the restoration business. When the widow’s trust fund robbed by a trustee is repaid with interest restoration is evident.

Can a business be Christian? It must be, for if the kingdom of God is not evidenced in the marketplace then it is no kingdom at all.